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Ways to storm-proof your computer

Thunderstorms create quiet excitement in the air and a not-so-quiet effect that some pets don’t appreciate. Computers appreciate storms even less. Nothing can stop a lightning bolt, and surges from resulting power outages can easily damage electronics in your home.

When powerful storms threaten, use a surge protector to regulate the power level when power is interrupted. If lightning is close by, unplug your electronics to avoid damage from a direct hit. Surge protectors cannot block the effect of a bolt that strikes nearby.

This time of year, a large portion of our shop’s computer service is due to electrical problems. The most common effect is a blown power supply. Network Interface Cards and motherboards can also sustain damage in a storm.

If your computer is not functioning normally after a storm or power outage, there are a few things to check. If the computer is powering on, but not connecting to the Internet, your modem or router may need to be reset. You may have one or two devices located where your cable/FiOS line enters your home. Turn off these boxes, wait 10 minutes, then turn on the device closest to the wall first, then the second device. This forces your router to reestablish a connection with the service provider.

If the computer will not power on at all, the power supply or adapter may be affected.

Power supplies can be quickly tested at no cost at a good computer service shop. Replacements must be matched to the computer. Laptops require an exact match of the connector and voltage. Amperage may be greater, but cannot be less. Use of the wrong power adapter may power the laptop, but can cause damage over time.

A charged battery may delay your discovery of a laptop’s blown power adapter. If you are able to use your laptop immediately after a storm, but have no power at a later time, have your power adapter checked.

Replacement of a power supply for a desktop is feasible but requires service. A surge that enters the system through the Internet cable will cause damage to the NIC. This is also a relatively inexpensive fix.

A more severe effect is a blown motherboard. The motherboard is a computer’s main component, providing circuitry and connections for all functions of the system. Unless a computer is new, or designed for a specific purpose, it is usually not cost effective to replace the motherboard. The good news is that unless the system smoked and burned, your data should still be intact.

If you are willing to void your desktop computer’s warranty, take a look inside the system. To a trained eye, a blown motherboard may show damage to the circuitry or to the capacitors. The capacitors are small cylindrical “towers” with an “X” on top. If the tops are flat, they are good. A blown capacitor will pop the top, like a baby food lid. Bad motherboards do not always show damage, and diagnosis may require testing all other components of the system.

Excitement is in the air this time of year. Use a surge protector, and unplug your computer if lightning is nearby. With some precaution, only the worrisome puppy dog will suffer the effects of the next storm.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.